‘Strut your mutt’ to help shelter pups

West Columbia Gorge Humane Society volunteers gear up for fall fundraisers

Upcoming fundraisers for the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society

What: There are two major fundraisers coming up for the Washougal dog and cat shelters. The first, in September, is the “Strut Your Mutt” walk in Portland. Residents can sign up to be a member of the team and can walk with or without a dog, or forego the walk and just help the shelter team fundraise. The second event is in October and it’s the shelter’s biggest of the year — “A Tail to Remember” is an evening of food, wine and auctions, held at the Vancouver Hilton.

When & Where: “Strut Your Mutt” is on Saturday, Sept. 9 in Portland, but fundraising is happening now. “A Tail to Remember” will be held on Saturday, Oct. 14, from 5 to 8 p.m., at the Vancouver Hilton.

Additional info: For more information about “Strut Your Mutt,” check the shelter’s Facebook site at www.facebook.com/wcghs and scroll down until you see the “Strut Your Mutt” link toward the bottom. For the dinner/auction fundraiser in October, visit wcghs.ejoinme.org/MyEvents/2017ATailtoRememberDinnerAuction.

Linnea Justis has volunteered at the Washougal area Humane Society for eight years. On Monday, Aug. 7, Justis, of Washougal, helped Bailey, a 2-year-old mix that shelter staff call a "pocket pittie," get some fresh air and sunshine in the enclosed play yard outside the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society.

West Columbia Gorge Humane Society volunteer Linnea Justis (left) and WCGHS Board of Directors member Micki Simeone (right) play with Bailey, a 2-year-old dog up for adoption at the Washougal shelter, on Monday, Aug. 7.

It’s a warm August Monday morning and inside many nonprofits, where unpaid volunteers are on vacation and everyone else is coping with a two-week heatwave, things may have slowed down a little bit.

But inside the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society, the workload never slows down. Even if volunteers go away, there are still dogs and cats to feed, walk, groom, medicate, soothe, mend and love.

In fact, on this particular Monday morning, volunteers are piling into the Washougal-based, no-kill animal shelter, moving around each other and cracking jokes, as if the heat hasn’t affected them at all.

Camas-Washougal Animal Control Officer Rick Foster is inside the main office, discussing a stray that was picked up the night before, but is now inside the kennel, happily nosing a tennis ball and wagging his tail at every human who passes by him.

Volunteer Joan Ellis, of Washougal, sits at a desk near Foster and answers phone calls, while Linnea Justis, who has volunteered at the Humane Society for eight years, gives a visitor a quick tour of the dog facilities, then heads outside to play with Bailey, a 2-year-old smallish dog shelter staff call a “pocket pittie” because she looks like a miniaturized American Pit Bull Terrier.

“There is always something to do,” says Micki Simeone, a member of the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society (WCGHS) Board of Directors. “And we always need volunteers.”

Although the shelter has about 100 volunteers on the books, Simeone says only about 60 of those are really active and that just a handful, maybe 15 or 20, are considered the “core group” of volunteers who sign up for weekly shifts at the dog and cat shelters to help clean the floors, empty litter boxes, take the dogs on daily walks, organize around the office and help with the many aspects of dog and cat intake and adoption.

Finding new volunteers and trying to raise enough money to cover the shelter’s $20,000-a-month operating budget is challenging. But, for people like Simeone and the rest of the volunteers who dedicate their spare time to the Humane Society and the animals it protects, the hardships are worth it.

Fundraisers coming up in September, October

When Simeone first came to the Washougal shelter, she was searching for something bigger than herself. Her best friend, a mother in her mid-30s, had recently died and Simeone was heartbroken. Something about one of the Washougal shelter’s dogs — a female who had recently given birth to a litter of puppies — drew her to the local Humane Society.

“I had always loved animals,” she says. “I was an only child and had my first dog at age 7 … and I had always wanted to volunteer with animals, but I couldn’t handle the places that euthanized.”

Knowing that many shelters have no choice, but not wanting to be around places where animals had died, Simeone instead gave money to Vancouver and Portland area animal shelters.

But when she walked into the Washougal shelter — one of the only no-kill shelters in Southwest Washington — Simeone knew she’d finally found a place where she could be comfortable giving her money and time.

Since then, she has had two “foster fails,” where she fostered a dog from the shelter, but fell in love and ended up adopting them, has joined the shelter’s board of directors and has been the driving force behind several fundraisers, including a new “First Friday” themed fundraiser that picks a new theme each week and asks people to donate just $5 toward that cause. A couple weeks ago, the Five Dollar First Friday fundraiser promoted emergency response at the shelter.

That idea came about after a nearby fire at the Port of Camas-Washougal broke out, causing shelter volunteers to rush to the Humane Society in case the fire jumped and they needed to evacuate the animals.

While shelter administrators obviously love to see the type of big, one-time private or corporate donations that help keep the shelter open, Simeone says the First Friday small donations can really add up, if enough people get involved.

Likewise, a fundraiser coming up in September is relying on crowds to help pull in money for the Washougal no-kill shelter.

WCGHS supporters have formed a team to walk in the Portland “Strut Your Mutt” fundraiser on Sept. 9. Organized and sponsored by the animal advocacy group Best Friends, the walk is a great way for the local shelter to raise money, Simeone says. The event is flexible — people can choose to join the walk with or without a dog, or can simply help the team fundraise money. Best Friends provides easy-to-use apps to help with the fundraising, as well as a platform that directs money straight to the local team via online payments. What’s even better, Simeone says, is that the vast majority of the money raised, more than 96 percent, goes to the local shelter.

To learn more about the Sept. 9 fundraiser, visit the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wcghs and scroll down to the “Strut Your Mutt” link on the bottom of the site.

One month after the Strut Your Mutt event, the shelter hosts its annual “A Tail to Remember” fundraiser on Saturday, Oct. 14, from 5 to 8 p.m., at the Hilton Vancouver. The evening of food, wine, silent auctions and a live auction, is the shelter’s biggest fundraiser of the year and allow the shelter to continue its mission: “to eliminate unnecessary euthanasia of healthy or treatable companion animals in the community and find them permanent, loving homes.” For more information about the A Tail to Remember or to buy tickets to the Oct. 14 event, visit wcghs.ejoinme.org/MyEvents/2017ATailtoRememberDinnerAuction.

To learn more about the shelter itself, about volunteer opportunities or about some of the nearly 500 companion animals the shelter helped find permanent homes for in 2016, visit the Humane Society at 2675-2695 S. Index St., Washougal; call 360-835-3464 (for the cat shelter) or 360-335-0941 (for the dog shelter); email info@wcghs.org; or visit www.wcghs.org.